Coast not biggest source of bad smells in Chemainus, survey finds

It’s now official: the odours that have been annoying businesses and some residents in Chemainus are coming from both industrial and farm operations.

As a result of complaints, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Municipality of North Cowichan retained Senes Consultants to determine the magnitude and possible source of odours in both the community of Chemainus and the Chemainus industrial park.

The report was officially released Wednesday, Sept. 17.

"In most cases, the complainants have assumed that Coast Environmental Ltd.’s (Coast) operations [at the industrial park] are the source of the odours," the authors said.

An eight-week odour survey was carried out during the months of May and June.

Findings show odours that were classified predominantly as "offensive" were observed in five areas in Chemainus: at River Road up to 46 per cent of the time (expected source – agricultural); at MacMillan Bloedel Forest Service Road up to 6.7 per cent of the time (expected source – industrial); along Smiley Road up to 4.9 per cent of the time (expected source – Coast); in the community of Chemainus, between the ferry terminal and Old Victoria Road up to 3.7 per cent of the time (expected source – agricultural); and on Bare Point Road up to 2.4 per cent of the time (expected source – Chemainus wastewater treatment plant).

The report concluded that the majority of odours observed along Smiley Road originate from Coast but said, overall, most were recorded as "barely noticeable" or "noticeable" along that road.

Senes determined that odours in the community of Chemainus did not originate from Coast but appear to be related to nearby farm activities.

As a result of the report’s findings, the CVRD and North Cowichan have requested Coast to voluntarily work to reduce the frequency of nuisance odours detectable beyond their property boundary.

According to the report, Coast has expressed a commitment to reduce odours from their onsite operations and has planned improvements to operations, including amendments to the composting process, the ventilation and biofilter systems and the wastewater pump-out system.

All systems upgrades are expected to be in place by the end of this month.

According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, that doesn’t mean the problem is going away.

"We’re concerned because obviously it’s within our jurisdiction and the affected businesses are our taxpayers and employers but the CVRD is the regulating authority. And they regulate under provincial rules. It appears that Coast is operating well within their rules and has gone beyond their rules.

"I’ve seen reaction to the report from local businesses and they’re not happy; they think the odour’s unbearable and yet the consultant has a very factual recording of their observations," he said.

The municipality and the CVRD are working in partnership with Coast to try and improve things.

"It’s very difficult. We don’t have the right to order Coast but we’re encouraging them," Lefebure said.

"A major problem is with the composting. They did enclose it but unfortunately, if you go by the complaints, we haven’t been able to see a lot of progress from that," he said.

The strongest stink seems to emerge when the finished compost pile is disturbed.

"It looks like a good, deep-red material. It can be very smelly when it’s dug into and there is no regulation on that at all. One of the times I was able to discern a very offensive odour, it was coming from that pile as a truck was loaded," he said.

"Coast did move it to the far side of their enclosures and I know they are working to create less odour but it’s going to be a real challenge going into the future."

Lefebure said he and most residents at Chemainus don’t consider agricultural odour a problem.

"Having lived in Chemainus for over 20 years, we know that there are certain times of the year when the farms spread manure on their fields and we can smell it for a day or two. We accept that as part of life here and having farms in your vicinity."

The report has been forwarded to all of North Cowichan but there isn’t any action that the municipality can take as it’s a regional subject, he reiterated.

Check out www.cvrd.bc.ca/ChemainusOdourSurvey to see the survey itself.